Scotch-Irish-L ArchivesArchiver > Scotch-Irish > 2010-01 > 1263328884
Subject: Re: [S-I] Fw: failure notice -- eh, surnames!
Date: Tue, 12 Jan 2010 20:41:24 +0000 (UTC)
Hi Sarah, our modern minds tend to think of our surnames and their spelling as fixed because we've been brainwashed by generations of teachers to believe there is a right and a wrong way to spell not only every word but surnames too. Unfortunately this is a modern notion, not taught in school rooms of the past. This is assuming too our ancestors were in schoolrooms. Actually they were not. Some were in the hedgerow schools, most were hoeing potatoes, learning to be blacksmiths, earning livings at a very young age. So it didn't much matter what was taught in schools.
Furthermore even if they had a firm notion how to spell their name, the magistrate, cleric, or whoever writing down their name to tax them, register the birth or marriage, etc., didn't much care about the opinion of a semi or completely illiterate farmboy. That farmboy ancestor would certainly not have challenged a magistrate or cleric as he had been firmly educated in the importance of paying respect to one's betters. They were, after all, in Great Britain.
A friend of mine married a lad of Irish origin who was raised in northern England. He is not 150 years old -- just 60 or so, yet he was also trained to stand aside, remove his hat and look at the earth when his betters passed by.
Almost everyone was better than him. His mum taught him well his position in the social pecking order: the bottom.
Whether this is still taught to children there, I do not know. I know my middle class English friend who lives in London with his Iranian wife and children does not think it strange or insulting that at his children's "public school" (private, to us Americans) certain people whose children are always much lighter skinned than his children will never, ever acknowledge his or his children's existence. I am an American and was raised differently, of course, so I would not put up with this stuff but would get my child expelled for sure due to my behavior....but our ancestors did or, when they got too uppity, they had to make a fast exit for America or end up hung from the limb of a tree.
Generally surnames got spelled phonetically -- so you can go by that. Of course there were many different accents so one man's phonetics might differ greatly from your own!
Usually at the 'start' of a serious genealogical project you must spend some time identifying spelling variants so you can be sure to check them all subsequently. One way to do this is use IGI -- it'll turn up phonetic synonyms.
However you do find them 'later on'. You keep a list of these and try to always check all variants in books, databases, etc....which is hard to do consistently.
Regarding the Scottish/Scotch-Irish thang, alas, just 300 years ago our ancestors all spoke the same language over there. It was called "Gaelic". Before 1600 Scots Gaelic was not different enough from Irish to be called a separate language. Ulster was full of Scots back then but these were Gaelic speakers from the highlands and islands. They spoke Gaelic just like their cousins the Irish. When the Plantation began, some of these guys assimilated into the planter population and some into Irish. Some of the Irish assimilated into the planter population -- actually LOTS of them did as you can tell by the DNA. So the names were the largely the same. People also changed ethnic identity. You find English style surnames (place names) that were translated into
Irish and other strange things. A Gaelic speaker who was a blacksmith, might be called 'blacksmith' and his
sons were sons of the blacksmith: McGowan. If someone with such a moniker wanted to become more
Anglo, he became Smith. And it wasn't hard at all to become a McCowan or Cowan -- a name presumed to
be Scots. Ho ho ho.....check the DNA to be sure. You might be surprised.
I'm saying it is not true that in 1621 in Ulster all the Scots spoke English and were Protestant. In fact a few of
the planters were Scots Catholics and brought Catholic tenants over from Scotland. It was much more confusing.
In 1500 all the Scots in Ulster were Catholic highlanders. It was illegal for Scots to be in Ireland. The
English removed you if they caught you or just shot you perhaps. Scots of any stripe. No King James yet.
Scots in Ireland were generally mercinary soldiers for the Irish. You could try to convince the English otherwise
if they caught you....or spies for the Scots gov, and that was as bad as being a mercinary. The only good
Scot in Ireland in 1500 was a dead one and the English would oblige you willingly.....
We broke through a multi generation brick wall when I talked my sister into going to the courthouse and
looking for deeds for our dead end ancestor over 50 years. I had read about this strategy in a magazine.
Sure enough, when he was OLD, and not when he first got this land, he registered the deed. It was the late
1800s and he knew sons would want clear title to this land that had been verbally given to him by his dad
long before. In the deed he named everyone -- father, brothers, cousins -- anyone who might be alive
and could swear in court he did own this land and had been given it by his father. His father spelled his
name totally different from our ancestor. They were German. My ancestor spelled it Seibert, his father
If you are not sure what county or state the ancestor's parents were in or from, you take cognisance
of the settlement pattern. In your case, from the north. Check "Old Wagon Road". Read county histories for
clues. Then start looking. Your ancestor might be named in a deed or will that was recorded to the north
any time from his birth till 80 years after it (to cut a broad swatch). Build a spreadsheet and start
checking published abstracts of deeds and wills, esp. anything on the Internet as you can't read all the
deeds and wills in all the counties. They're only indexed by the name of the deceased and grantor/grantee
anyway. You want an every name index. Then you note the names and the counties and the records where
the surname occurs . If that doesn't turn up your ancestor, you can still check counties where the surname
occurs in more depth. But go to a library first and find published, indexed abstracts or transcriptions, not the
If the ancestor arrived as a criminal, indentured servant, or just a poor person, you will not be able to find
information on his origins, most likely. Esp. if he was from Ireland. No big deal these days ...... do DNA.
In the case of one Johnston that I am working on, his DNA is north west Irish and he seems to be a dead
ringer for an Ui Neill family that is known to have taken the surname. The immigrant's death record in
1852 says he was born in County Down. The father also came over -- he was a merchant in the early
1800s in western PA (tax records) and I just found out from a deed that the father had previously lived in
Baltimore, Maryland. This is not surprising since they were part of the St. Vincent mission in the Derry, PA area
and many of these people did originate as Maryland Catholics. So now looking for a middle class
Catholic family of Johnstons in Co. Down. This is the wrong list to troll for such a family <grin>. But it
is an example. His daughter claimed he was from County Kerry. I do not know where she got that,
but it is possible that his wife was from Kerry or the wife of the son. The wife of the son was the daugh
of a WM Harris from Maryland (who also settled in south west PA), who lost his wife soon after the
birth of the daughter who was raised by Mother Seton in her orphanage (not yet verified). Maybe he was from Kerry......but between the death record and the DNA I am pretty certain the Johnstons were not from Kerry !! Maybe dad was a merchant there though.....something to check out..... About 1822 they bought over a thousand acres in western PA. Not poor people like my ancestors. Dad seems to have done well with the salt trade which started about 1820 around here.
Usually these people appear as Johnstons but they also are recorded as Johnsons. I do know that
in Kerry in the 1600s you had plenty of McShanes. But by the 1800s you had Johns(t)ons and no
McShanes. Everyone had had their surnames anglicized. The Kerry angle appears to have been a
dead end, but the information is still in the old brain cells and will come in handy sometime (I hope).
I had another client, surnamed Melville. Another researcher hadn't had a lot of consistent luck with the family
in the censuses, though they arrived later from Ireland about 1870 or so. She failed to look the name up in
an Irish surname book. The name is also Mulville and Mulvihill in Ireland. They were in the census as
Mulvihill. I asked the client if he'd ever heard this name. No. However the Mulvihill family crest was hanging
over his desk, given to him by his aunt (first generation American). So She knew they were Mulvihills.
The other researcher had told him it was impossible to research family in Ireland and to give up, but she
had found the Irish pot of gold at the end of his rainbow: the marriage of his immigrant ancestor in
central PA that gave the county of origin in Ireland and the names of his parents. She was right that she
didn't know how to do Irish genealogy <grin>. By that time the indexes were on line for that county:
Limerick. I found the ancestor's baptism on line immediately and we had the village where he was born
in Limerick about 1852. The DNA showed he was not related to Mulvihills living on the Shannon
estuary but to the ones in Kerry. Not surprisingly, his family village was on the road to Kerry. So apparently
his ancestors had walked up from Kerry, probably the parents, as they weren't married in that parish.
Kerry records still not on line......
I became convinced that Rule #1 for Irish genealogy is look the name up in a GOOD Irish surname book. You gotta do this because surnames were fluid among three languages in the last 400 years: Irish, Scots Gaelic, and English. By following this simple rule you can become the family hero or heroine and be able to plan a trip back
home next summer to the village where your ancestors lived. If the immigrant grandparents of my client
forgot to tell him they changed the name on the boat on the way over, you can bet that we have lost a lot
of info about our Scotch Irish ancestors, coming a hundred years earlier. So we gotta put our thinking caps
I think all the more recently migrated lines that I have had had screw ups caused by bad info: My paternal
paternal line claimed they came through Canada... how odd when I found them (finally) on New York passenger
list about 1870! These were my great grandparents. My paternal maternal line claimed they came in 1892. The ship
name and city where they lived was provided by a great aunt who was on the ship. The ship didn't exist.
I bet she confused it with a similar name: yup, a ship of that name crossed the waters constantly during
that period and I found them on its ship list. However couldn't find them in Glasgow. Obtained birth certificate
of same great aunt ....duh! She was born in another Scottish county all together. They boarded the boat in
Glasgow. She didn't know where she was born. Very nice lady but not a detail freak <grin>.
So a hundred years earlier....man, I'm amazed any of it makes sense let alone that they could spell their last name consistently. That was beyond their abilities in most cases, requiring concepts (standardized spelling)
that were generations away.
Andrew Johnson said he had no respect for a man who could only spell a word one way. Or was that Johnston? No...I was right the first time.......
----- Original Message -----
From: "Sarah" <>
Sent: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 2:23:52 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern
Subject: [S-I] Fw: failure notice
> Hi linda Merle,
> Wondering if this is true?? I had read somewhere??? that
> these two were different names.............one Scotish and one Irish or
> Scotch-Irish-----Have you had any experience with these two names.
> Casey -
> Cayce. My line is Cayce of
> SC and goes several generations back to 1756 The Cayce line connects with
> the Farmer, Friday, Fleming and Sallis lines in GA, MS in late 1700s and
> Can you shed some light on this family name. His answer doesnt seem right
> but may be.??
> Original Message -----
> From: "Cliff. Johnston" <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Saturday, January 09, 2010 8:23 PM
> Subject: Re: [CASEY] Cayce/Casey
>> Semi-literate people before the standardization of surname spelling ca.
>> mid to late 1800's for the most part spelled all surnames phonetically.
>> This meant that if they had an accent that was included too. I've run
>> this with my Johnston/e family. In the 1500's in one county alone in
>> Scotland I came across a document that had 17 different ways to spell
>> Johnstone, and none of them included Johnston or Johnstone. It was
>> considered to be no big deal then as long as the sound of it was the
>> The advent of passports and other travel documents in the 1800s changed
>> attitude quickly.
>> By the way, you missed O'Casey ;-)
>> Cliff. Johnston
>> "May the best you've ever seen,
>> Be the worst you'll ever see;"
>> from A Scots Toast by Allan Ramsay
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: "Virginia" <>
>> To: <>
>> Sent: Saturday, January 09, 2010 7:09 PM
>> Subject: [CASEY] Cayce/Casey
>>> Does anyone know how or if the 2 spellings of this name came about?
>>> Virginia in Seattle
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